Saturday morning, I made the mistake of sleeping in, and sometime around 7:30 awoke to the news that Apple is acquiring Lala.com. At least three different people, all well aware of how I've been advocating Lala in recent months as an alternative to iTunes (no more 30 second clips!) sent me links to stories in Hypebot, the NYTimes, and the Wall St. Journal all announcing the same deal.
"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not comment on our purpose or plan." said Apple spokesman Steve Dowling.
Leaving me, along with every body else in the business, to ponder what it all means.
There are only two possibilities:
1) Apple really hasn't built any infrastructure for a streaming/subscription service into iTunes, and has chosen instead to acquire that infrastructure rather than develop it in house. Or…
2) They're going to shelve the whole thing.
Over the past few weeks, whenever I've shown somebody the Lala iPhone app (which I have been privileged to be part of their beta program), the question has invariably come around to, "and Apple is going to approve this?" Because anybody with half a wit can see that a system like Lala has devised pretty well obsolesces the iTunes "30 second samples for 99c downloads" model. Throws it right under the bus and drives over it half dozen times. "You can listen to anything you want to, in its entirety, for free" — pretty well redefines (on demand) music distribution.
It's gratifying in one sense that Apple sees the handwriting on the wall, and recognizes as I've been saying for a while now that the "end zone of digital distribution is the 'Celestial Jukebox' – whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are (if the bastards ever let us)."
I speculated a while back that Google, after announcing Lala's participation in the Google Music search program, would be the company to acquire Lala. That, I feared, would throw the Celestial Jukebox into the lurch that is now forming between Google and Apple as Google begins to get into some of Apple's business with Android, Chrome, etc. In that regard, I suspect the Apple acquisition is ultimately the better result.
With its unsurmountable domination of the digital music delivery business, Apple is in a far better position to make the best of Lala than Google. What remains to be seen is Apple's time frame.
When I started talking about Lala (and started this blog) a few months ago, and speculated re: the challenge that streaming presents to iTunes' download model, one friend predicted that Apple would "ride the download model all the way to the bottom."
At the very least, Apple seems well aware of where that bottom is an is now making the necessary preparations to continue to be a force in digital music delivery once the download model has run its course.
On the other hand, what Apple's acquisition of Lala empowers Apple to do is to determine the timing of the arrival of that bottom and the new paradigm its arrival heralds. With Lala in their pocket, it will be almost entirely up to Apple to determine when the download model is over and when the cloud storage and streaming model takes over.
No predictions here how long Apple is going to milk the downloads. I'm just glad this means it will all work seamlessly with my other Apple products: Macs, iPhones, AppleTV, and Lord only knows what's next. Somebody, please pass the Kool-Aid.